Biden administration announces new investments in Colorado River conservation

Read the full story at The Hill.

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced additional steps to protect the stability of the Colorado River, just two days after basin states reached a pivotal consensus on system-wide conservation.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation is finalizing eight new agreements in the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas that will save up to 393,000-acre feet of water in Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, through 2025. 

Plans for I-55 expansion in Chicago raise concerns over air quality and community health

Read the full story from Inside Climate News. See also coverage from the Chicago Sun-Times.

Environmental advocates and community groups already exposed to high levels of air pollution fear that additional lanes will exacerbate health risks in Southwest Side neighborhoods.

ChatGPT and other generative AI could foster science denial and misunderstanding – here’s how you can be on alert

Approach all information with some initial skepticism. Guillermo Spelucin/Moment via Getty Images

by Gale Sinatra, University of Southern California and Barbara K. Hofer, Middlebury

Until very recently, if you wanted to know more about a controversial scientific topic – stem cell research, the safety of nuclear energy, climate change – you probably did a Google search. Presented with multiple sources, you chose what to read, selecting which sites or authorities to trust.

Now you have another option: You can pose your question to ChatGPT or another generative artificial intelligence platform and quickly receive a succinct response in paragraph form.

ChatGPT does not search the internet the way Google does. Instead, it generates responses to queries by predicting likely word combinations from a massive amalgam of available online information.

Although it has the potential for enhancing productivity, generative AI has been shown to have some major faults. It can produce misinformation. It can create “hallucinations” – a benign term for making things up. And it doesn’t always accurately solve reasoning problems. For example, when asked if both a car and a tank can fit through a doorway, it failed to consider both width and height. Nevertheless, it is already being used to produce articles and website content you may have encountered, or as a tool in the writing process. Yet you are unlikely to know if what you’re reading was created by AI.

As the authors of “Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It,” we are concerned about how generative AI may blur the boundaries between truth and fiction for those seeking authoritative scientific information.

Every media consumer needs to be more vigilant than ever in verifying scientific accuracy in what they read. Here’s how you can stay on your toes in this new information landscape.

glowing purple points connected by blue lines
Based on all the data points it ingests, an AI platform uses predictive algorithms to produce answers to queries. Cobalt88/iStock via Getty Images Plus

How generative AI could promote science denial

Erosion of epistemic trust. All consumers of science information depend on judgments of scientific and medical experts. Epistemic trust is the process of trusting knowledge you get from others. It is fundamental to the understanding and use of scientific information. Whether someone is seeking information about a health concern or trying to understand solutions to climate change, they often have limited scientific understanding and little access to firsthand evidence. With a rapidly growing body of information online, people must make frequent decisions about what and whom to trust. With the increased use of generative AI and the potential for manipulation, we believe trust is likely to erode further than it already has.

Misleading or just plain wrong. If there are errors or biases in the data on which AI platforms are trained, that can be reflected in the results. In our own searches, when we have asked ChatGPT to regenerate multiple answers to the same question, we have gotten conflicting answers. Asked why, it responded, “Sometimes I make mistakes.” Perhaps the trickiest issue with AI-generated content is knowing when it is wrong.

Disinformation spread intentionally. AI can be used to generate compelling disinformation as text as well as deepfake images and videos. When we asked ChatGPT to “write about vaccines in the style of disinformation,” it produced a nonexistent citation with fake data. Geoffrey Hinton, former head of AI development at Google, quit to be free to sound the alarm, saying, “It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things.” The potential to create and spread deliberately incorrect information about science already existed, but it is now dangerously easy.

Fabricated sources. ChatGPT provides responses with no sources at all, or if asked for sources, may present ones it made up. We both asked ChatGPT to generate a list of our own publications. We each identified a few correct sources. More were hallucinations, yet seemingly reputable and mostly plausible, with actual previous co-authors, in similar sounding journals. This inventiveness is a big problem if a list of a scholar’s publications conveys authority to a reader who doesn’t take time to verify them.

Dated knowledge. ChatGPT doesn’t know what happened in the world after its training concluded. A query on what percentage of the world has had COVID-19 returned an answer prefaced by “as of my knowledge cutoff date of September 2021.” Given how rapidly knowledge advances in some areas, this limitation could mean readers get erroneous outdated information. If you’re seeking recent research on a personal health issue, for instance, beware.

Rapid advancement and poor transparency. AI systems continue to become more powerful and learn faster, and they may learn more science misinformation along the way. Google recently announced 25 new embedded uses of AI in its services. At this point, insufficient guardrails are in place to assure that generative AI will become a more accurate purveyor of scientific information over time.

woman looks confused taking notes on paper looking at laptop
Be ready to look beyond your ChatGPT request. 10’000 Hours/DigitalVision via Getty Images

What can you do?

If you use ChatGPT or other AI platforms, recognize that they might not be completely accurate. The burden falls to the user to discern accuracy.

Increase your vigilance. AI fact-checking apps may be available soon, but for now, users must serve as their own fact-checkers. There are steps we recommend. The first is: Be vigilant. People often reflexively share information found from searches on social media with little or no vetting. Know when to become more deliberately thoughtful and when it’s worth identifying and evaluating sources of information. If you’re trying to decide how to manage a serious illness or to understand the best steps for addressing climate change, take time to vet the sources.

Improve your fact-checking. A second step is lateral reading, a process professional fact-checkers use. Open a new window and search for information about the sources, if provided. Is the source credible? Does the author have relevant expertise? And what is the consensus of experts? If no sources are provided or you don’t know if they are valid, use a traditional search engine to find and evaluate experts on the topic.

Evaluate the evidence. Next, take a look at the evidence and its connection to the claim. Is there evidence that genetically modified foods are safe? Is there evidence that they are not? What is the scientific consensus? Evaluating the claims will take effort beyond a quick query to ChatGPT.

If you begin with AI, don’t stop there. Exercise caution in using it as the sole authority on any scientific issue. You might see what ChatGPT has to say about genetically modified organisms or vaccine safety, but also follow up with a more diligent search using traditional search engines before you draw conclusions.

Assess plausibility. Judge whether the claim is plausible. Is it likely to be true? If AI makes an implausible (and inaccurate) statement like “1 million deaths were caused by vaccines, not COVID-19,” consider if it even makes sense. Make a tentative judgment and then be open to revising your thinking once you have checked the evidence.

Promote digital literacy in yourself and others. Everyone needs to up their game. Improve your own digital literacy, and if you are a parent, teacher, mentor or community leader, promote digital literacy in others. The American Psychological Association provides guidance on fact-checking online information and recommends teens be trained in social media skills to minimize risks to health and well-being. The News Literacy Project provides helpful tools for improving and supporting digital literacy.

Arm yourself with the skills you need to navigate the new AI information landscape. Even if you don’t use generative AI, it is likely you have already read articles created by it or developed from it. It can take time and effort to find and evaluate reliable information about science online – but it is worth it.

Gale Sinatra, Professor of Education and Psychology, University of Southern California and Barbara K. Hofer, Professor of Psychology Emerita, Middlebury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the recycling symbol could end up in the trash bin

Read the full story from the Washington Post.

For decades, three arrows pointing in a triangular loop have been the iconic symbol for recycling, but that could change. The Environmental Protection Agency — along with thousands of environmentalists and individuals — are urging the Federal Trade Commission to drop the symbol from plastics that aren’t actually recyclable.

Misleading labels and false claims about “green” products confuse the public about what can and cannot be recycled or composted, according to the EPA. Environmentalists are urging the FTC to update its Green Guides — designed to help marketers avoid misleading consumers with environmental claims — to combat the problem.

Western tribes face challenges capitalizing on water rights: study

Read the full story at The Hill.

Indigenous groups in the U.S. West are facing difficulties transforming water that belongs to them on paper into water they can actually use, a new study has found.

Tribal nations are likely using only a fraction of their entitled water rights — thereby foregoing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue annually, according to the study, published in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.

Lunds & Byerlys turns to AI and computer vision to reduce food waste

Read the full story at Grocery Dive.

Twin Cities grocer Lunds & Byerlys has partnered with Phood Solutions, a food waste technology company, in an effort to reduce annual food waste by an anticipated 150,000 pounds, according to an emailed Tuesday press release.

The grocer is looking to minimize food waste at its deli food bars by using Phood’s scale, computer vision and artificial intelligence as well as reporting to make necessary adjustments to its daily offerings. 

Lunds & Byerlys’ initiative is coming at a time when food waste is becoming a more prominent concern in the grocery industry and particularly playing a prominent role in sustainability efforts. 

5 expensive energy mistakes grocers are making

Read the full story at Grocery Dive.

Food retailers can save roughly $15,000 annually per store by improving five overlooked practices, according to Ratio Institute, a nonprofit specializing in grocery sustainability.

How good is secondhand apparel for the planet, really?

Read the full story from Retail Dive.

Consumers and brands are embracing resale as a way to address fashion’s poor environmental track record, but it may be too little, too late.

El Niño is coming, and ocean temps are already at record highs – that can spell disaster for fish and corals

Marine heat waves can reach the ocean floor as well as surface waters. Sebastian Pena Lambarri via Unsplash, CC BY

by Dillon Amaya, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

It’s coming. Winds are weakening along the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Heat is building beneath the ocean surface. By July, most forecast models agree that the climate system’s biggest player – El Niño – will return for the first time in nearly four years.

El Niño is one side of the climatic coin called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. It’s the heads to La Niña’s tails.

During El Niño, a swath of ocean stretching 6,000 miles (about 10,000 kilometers) westward off the coast of Ecuador warms for months on end, typically by 2 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1 to 2 degrees Celsius). A few degrees may not seem like much, but in that part of the world, it’s more than enough to completely reorganize wind, rainfall and temperature patterns all over the planet.

White corals indicate bleaching from heat stress.
Marine heat waves can trigger coral bleaching. Alexis Rosenfeld/Getty Images

I’m a climate scientist who studies the oceans. After three years of La Niña, it’s time to start preparing for what El Niño may have in store.

How El Niño affects the planet

No two El Niño events are exactly alike, though we’ve seen enough of them that forecasters have a pretty good idea of what’s likely to happen.

People tend to focus on El Niño’s impact on land, justifiably. The warm water affects air currents that leave areas wetter or drier than usual. It can ramp up storms in some areas, like the southern U.S., while tending to tamp down Atlantic hurricane activity.

How El Niño forms. NOAA.

El Niño can also wreak havoc on the many marine ecosystems that support the world’s fishing industries, including coral reefs and seagrass meadows.

Specifically, El Niño tends to trigger intense and widespread periods of extreme ocean warming known as marine heat waves.

Global ocean temperatures are already at record highs, so El Niño-induced marine heat waves could push many sensitive fisheries to a breaking point.

The problem with marine heat waves

A marine heat wave is just that: a “wave” of extreme heat in the ocean, not dissimilar to an atmospheric heat wave on land.

At their smallest, marine heat waves can inundate local bays and coves with hotter-than-normal water for a few days or weeks. At their largest, marine heat waves like the Northeast Pacific Warm Blob of 2013-2014 can grow to gargantuan proportions, with regions three times the size of Texas experiencing ocean temperatures 4 to 6 F (about 2 to 3 C) above average for months or even years.

An example of a marine heat wave showing intense heat.
Fierce marine heat waves like this one in 2019 can wreak havoc on sea life off the North American Pacific Coast with temperatures about 4 to 6 F (2 to 3 C) above normal. Dillon Amaya

Warm water might not seem like a big deal, especially to surfers hoping to leave their wetsuits at home. But for many marine organisms that are highly adapted to specific water temperatures, marine heat waves can make living in the ocean feel like running a marathon.

For example, some fish increase their metabolism in warm waters by so much that they burn energy faster than they can eat, and they can die. Pacific cod declined by 70% in the Gulf of Alaska in response to a marine heat wave. Other impacts include bleached corals, widespread harmful algal blooms, decimated seaweeds and increased marine mammal strandings. All told, billions of U.S. dollars are lost to marine heat waves each year.

Marine heat waves flare up for a variety of reasons. Sometimes ocean currents shift warm water around. Sometimes surface winds are weaker than normal, leading to less evaporation over the ocean and warmer waters. Sometimes cloudy places just aren’t as cloudy for a few months, which lets more sunlight in and heats up the ocean. Sometimes both weaker winds and fewer clouds happen at the same time, producing record-breaking marine heat waves.

Where El Niño fits in

In the climate system, El Niño is king. When it dons its fiery crown, the entire planet takes notice, and the oceans are no exception. But the likelihood of increased marine heat wave activity during El Niño depends on where you are.

Along the U.S. West Coast during El Niño, surface winds that normally blow from the north tend to subside. This weakens evaporation and slows upwelling of colder, deeper water. That increases the chances of coastal marine heat waves.

Peruvian fishers have for centuries weathered periods of extreme ocean warming that drive fish away. It wasn’t until the 1920s that scientists realized that these South American marine heat waves were related to the Pacificwide ENSO.

In the Bay of Bengal east of India, interactions between El Niño and a tropical air flow pattern known as the Walker Circulation elevate the risk for marine heat waves.

Seafloor heat waves are another risk

Even if marine heat waves aren’t more obvious at the ocean surface this year, it doesn’t mean all is well down below.

In a recent study, my colleagues and I showed that marine heat waves also unfold along the seafloor of coastal regions. In fact, these “bottom marine heat waves” are sometimes more intense than their surface counterparts. They can also persist much longer. For example, a 1997-1998 bottom marine heat wave off the U.S. West Coast lasted an extra four to five months after surface ocean temperatures had already cooled.

Events like this can be related to El Niño and put a lot of stress on bottom-dwelling species. Bering Sea snow crab landings were down 84% in 2018 after a marine heat wave reached the seafloor.

We’re in (for) hot water

With El Niño on the horizon, what can we expect for this year?

The good news is seasonal forecast models can skillfully predict marine heat waves three to six months in advance, depending on the region. And forecasts tend to be most accurate during El Niño years.

Map showing where marine heat waves are forecast in October 2023.
NOAA’s marine heat wave forecast issued in early April predicting October 2023. NOAA/Jacox, et al. 2022

The latest forecast predicts several active marine heat waves to persist into June-August, including in the North Pacific, off the coast of Peru, southeast of New Zealand and in the tropical North Atlantic.

The same forecasts predict El Niño to ramp up over the next six to nine months, increasing marine heat wave risk in January to March of 2024 for the U.S. West Coast, the western Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the tropical North Atlantic.

That said, these predictions are far enough out that things could change. Time will tell whether they hold (hot) water, but we would do well to prepare. El Niño is coming.

Dillon Amaya, Climate Research Scientist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pioneering project helps renters cash in on solar savings

Read the full story from Canary Media.

By cleverly stacking an array of incentives and credits, two nonprofits are helping Minneapolis apartment dwellers slash their power bills by up to one-third.